Boost to UK nuclear technology R&D

28 September 2010

The UK government is to provide £2 million ($3.2 million) to help fund twenty feasibility studies aimed at stimulating innovation and strengthening the supply chain in the area of nuclear research and development (R&D) and its applications. 


The funds are to be provided through the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), set up by the government to promote and support research into, and development and exploitation of, technology and innovation. It is sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).


The TSB launched a competition for R&D funding in June. At that time, it said, "This competition encourages businesses not currently working in the nuclear sector to explore the opportunities that the predicted global civil nuclear resurgence presents. In addition, it will allow the existing supply chain to engage with innovative technology providers and explore opportunities for growth." The TSB selected the winning applicants in August.


The feasibility studies selected, the TSB said, "will address a wide range of challenges, from non-destructive testing, waste handling and condition monitoring to materials modelling, advanced manufacture and maintenance technologies and construction methods."


One of the studies selected addresses the feasibility of developing a design standard for steel-concrete-steel modular construction structures for use in nuclear applications. Another will study the feasibility of using snake-arm robots and fibre lasers in the decommissioning of nuclear facilities.


The TSB noted that all the studies - which will last between six and twelve months - are "industry led, many having small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as the project leader or as a major contributor." It added, "The studies will assist UK businesses in developing technologies to support the civil nuclear industry, while strengthening the supply chain."


Iain Gray, chief executive of the TSB, said: "We see the transfer of innovative technologies from other sectors and support for SMEs, working with major companies in the civil nuclear sector, as essential in developing and sustaining the strongest possible UK supply chain." He added, "Many of these studies will be led by SMEs, or will have their strong involvement."



Hague not vague on nuclear 

The UK's foreign minister, William Hague, has told the Council on Foreign Relations, "We will have, from the 2020s onwards, an expanding nuclear power sector," Bloomberg reported.
He said that, partly as a strategic decision to lower its carbon emissions and reliance on imported energy, "We have decided in Britain to build a new generation of nuclear power stations." Hague added, "I really see no alternative to that except excessive dependence on oil and gas, and imported liquefied natural gas."
"So after quite a long gap in which we haven't built any nuclear power plants, we are opening the door to doing so again," he said. However, Hague said, "They have to justify themselves economically."


Earlier this year, a review of the UK's nuclear R&D capability commissioned by the TSB was published. That review concluded there were a number of areas where the UK still had outstanding capability, from which, with suitable support and development, there could be sustained benefit. The review highlighted, in particular, the latent potential within UK SMEs to encourage innovation in the civil nuclear sector by transferring skills and technology to, and from, larger companies in a number of key underpinning areas.


The review concluded, "In order for the UK to maintain its nuclear industry heritage and status as well as benefit from the global nuclear renaissance, public sector investment in R&D and technology development will be essential and can be justified."


According to the TSB, "With a global market valued at around £600 billion ($950 billion) for new nuclear power installations and £250 billion ($396 billion) for decommissioning, waste treatment and disposal, the predicted resurgence in the nuclear power market over the next twenty years should lead to significant global opportunities for British businesses in the area of nuclear engineering and its associated technologies."


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News